NOW HIS OWN BOSS
India Today|May 17, 2021
The Left’s second consecutive win in Kerala underlines Pinarayi Vijayan’s deft handling of the many crises that hit the state as much as his control over the political narrative
Jeemon Jacob

The exit polls had predicted a return of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) to power in Kerala, but even hardcore supporters did not anticipate such a decisive verdict. Kerala not only voted Pinarayi Vijayan, 75, back to power, breaking a four-decade-old trend of alternate front governments—the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)led LDF or the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)—but also gave the ruling coalition 99 of 140 seats, eight more than its tally in 2016.

Pinarayi’s victory, which trumped anti-incumbency, high-profile cases of alleged corruption, including the gold smuggling scam, the government’s handling of women’s entry in the Sabarimala temple issue and daily rising cases of Covid, the third highest in the country, underlines his position as the undisputed mass leader within the CPI(M). It also places him as a key figure, along with Mamata Banerjee and M.K. Stalin, in a possible opposition coalition that could challenge the BJP in the general election in 2024. In the process, the opposition UDF was reduced to 41 seats, with the Congress winning only 21 of those. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, was in an even more pitiable state, failing to even keep its first ever seat in the state, Nemom, which it had won in 2016. “In 2016, the BJP opened its account with a seat in Nemom,” Pinarayi had told the media days before the elections. “We will close that account this time.” And when he actually did it, he also took the CPI(M) to a commanding tally of 67 seats in the LDF alliance.

The win wasn’t a fluke, Pinarayi had analysed threadbare the strengths and weaknesses of his political opponents. He designed strategies and made alliances to widen the LDF’s mass base in Kerala (see Why the LDF Won). His handling of the devastating floods in consecutive years (2018 and ’19), the Nipah virus outbreak and then Covid-19, has been widely appreciated. In the course of these crises, he also metamorphosed from a seemingly arrogant leader to someone who people could turn to in distress. His daily addresses on primetime TV throughout the pandemic created much viewer interest, boosting his image among voters.

“The LDF’s victory in the assembly poll is unparalleled,” says a former chief secretary who has served with LDF governments in the past. “Pinarayi must get full credit for designing some winning strategies.” Ever since he came to power in 2016, Pinarayi had been keen on a second term, says the former bureaucrat. The chief minister consulted hundreds of experts to design his governance strategies. “He wanted to transform Kerala, set new benchmarks in quality living standards. His initiatives paid rich dividends for the state and for the CPI(M),” says the former bureaucrat.

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